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5 fundamentals of uncommon leaders 

Uncommon leaders are those who seek to engage and develop others and make them feel valued, writes Mark Miller.

5 min read


uncommon leader

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How are you … really? Many leaders are struggling. One reason they cannot escape their challenges is they have a gap; they are lacking in one area or another. Think about a football team that is having trouble winning. The keen observer can often pinpoint the problem — is it an offensive or defensive deficit? Are their special teams competent? Maybe, just maybe, the team is not sound with the fundamentals of the game — blocking and tackling.

Our recent study of more than 4,000 leaders from six countries confirmed our hypothesis: Like football and virtually every other discipline in the world, leadership has its own fundamentals. Look at the following and see how you’re doing in these crucial areas.

See the future

Leadership always begins with a picture of the future. Is your image clear and compelling? How much time and energy have you invested to clarify your hopes and dreams for your organization? How much work have you done to cascade your vision throughout your organization? To see the future requires a leader to weave the threads of what you know to be true and what you want to be true into a compelling picture of a better tomorrow.

Engage and develop others

According to organizations that study engagement, the global workforce could be better. Engagement across the world is at tragically low levels. Many interpret this data as an indictment of the workers. I disagree.

A low level of engagement is a byproduct of leadership. We create the conditions for full engagement or not. Leaders created this problem, and we are the only ones who can repair the damage. We can help those we lead care deeply about their work, co-workers and the organization while fueling their growth. If we don’t address this, the global workforce will be disengaged.

Reinvent continuously

Change must happen before progress. Unfortunately, far too many leaders see change as a burden, an obstacle to avoid at all costs. On the contrary, change in service of the vision is our job. How are you doing on this fundamental? Are you instigating change? You should be. To reinvent continuously, you must routinely escape the bounds of the present and the known in pursuit of improved skills, methods and outcomes.

Consider three domains: self, systems and structure if you need a cheat sheet.

  • Self. You should constantly be reinventing yourself. What are you learning? How are you intentionally growing?
  • Systems. Your current systems, beliefs and behaviors are perfectly aligned to produce the outcomes you are now experiencing. What needs to change? Hope is not a strategy for improvement.
  • Structure. Do you find it increasingly challenging to produce the results you desire? Are things falling through the cracks? You can rethink your strategies to accomplish the work.

Value results and relationships

Jim Collins coined a phrase years ago: “The genius of the AND.” What he described is a powerful principle. When a leader or an organization embraces two competing ideas, tremendous power is released. “Value results AND relationships” is the quintessential example of this idea in practice.

Most leaders I know care about results — if not, they shouldn’t be in a leadership role. However, what is paradoxical is that to maximize results, you can’t focus exclusively on results. To optimize results over time, the best and uncommon leaders focus on results and relationships.

Uncommon leaders learn to successfully navigate the challenges of honoring those we lead while ensuring sustained elite performance levels.

Embody a leader’s heart

The fifth and final fundamental is a huge opportunity and a significant stumbling block for many leaders. Regardless of your mastery of the first four fundamentals, your ultimate success is primarily determined by your proficiency in this one. You and I must embody a leader’s heart. If our heart is not right, no one cares about our skills.

There are several heart habits uncommon leaders must cultivate, and none is more important than the ability to “think others first.” I’ll be honest: This is not always my first instinct, and I don’t think I’m alone. A lot of leaders fight the gravitational pull of self. However, to be an uncommon leader and a leader people want to follow, you and I must master this fundamental.

Yes, but how? Here’s an activity I’ve recommended and practiced for decades.

Try to add value to every person you meet. Yes, I know you cannot add value to everyone you meet, but your transformation hinges on your effort rather than your success rate. The key word in this challenge is the word “try.” If you are trying to add value to someone else, your focus has already shifted from you to them. The more you attempt this, the more you’ll become aware of how you can add value to others: encouragement, appreciation, coaching, correction, resources, connections, genuine compliments and so much more. Try this for a day, then a week, and you’ll see your heart and leadership begin to change. You’ll be well on your way to becoming a leader who “thinks others first.”

Be uncommon!

The leader who masters these five fundamentals will surely be an uncommon leader. George Washington Carver said it like this: When you learn to do everyday things uncommonly, you will demand the world’s attention.

I’ll take that a step further. When you devote yourself to the fundamentals outlined here, you’ll do far more than command the world’s attention – you will change yours.


Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own.


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